Steiger CEO Discusses State Of HTPCs, Unveils LEET Workstation Models (UPDATED)

Last month, Steiger released a new lineup of HTPCs called ERA, which offered a variety of components for what the company believes to be the best all-in-one PC for your living room. While ERA covers all the bases for living room entertainment, Steiger also caters to those who require a little bit more power. This week, the company showed off its specialized HTPCs called the LEET Workstation for those who need more juice for intensive work.

Even with a wide variety of products available, the idea of using an HTPC instead of a regular PC isn't widely accepted. Most people choose a regular desktop computer for daily use, or a decent laptop, or some combination. We spoke to Steiger Dynamics CEO Martin Gossner about the current state and future of HTPCs, and how they can compete in the PC market.

High-End HTPCs

The biggest issue is cost. The LEET Workstation comes in two models: the Studio and the Pro. You can customize the components for each model, which starts at $1,999 for the Studio and $3,299 for the Pro model. If you don't know what you want, you can grab a stock Studio that starts at $3,399 or a stock Pro starting at $3,849.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 LEET Workstation Studio (Stock)
MotherboardASUS X99-A
ProcessorIntel Core i7-5820K, 6-Core, 3.3 GHz (3.6 Turbo), 15 MB cache, HyperThreading
Memory16 GB (4 x 4 GB) DDR4-2666 MHz, large heatspreader
GraphicsNvidia GeForce GTX 970 Superclocked (4 GB DDR5)
AudioIntegrated 7.1 channel lossless- 24bit, 192 KHz bitstreaming (HDMI/DVI), 5.1 (opt., S/PDIF, audio jacks)
Storage250 GB Samsung 850 EVO SSD
Storage2 TB Western Digital Red HDD
Optical Drive12X Blu-ray disc combo (read BD, write DVD/CD, M-DISC)
Connections-Front panel (2 USB 3.0, SDHC-Card reader, HD audio In/Out)-Rear panel (up to 10 USB 3.0/2.0, optical S/PDIF, 8-channel audio jack out, audio jack in, Intel Gigabi Ethernet, HDMI/DVI, Displayport), integrated Bluetooth, integrated Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
Power SupplySeasonic 650 Watt X-Series Gold
CoolingCorsair 120mm pre-sealed liquid cooling for CPU (one-inch single-radiator with GT fan)
Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 LEET Workstation Pro (Stock)
MotherboardASUS X99-E WS
ProcessorIntel Xeon E5-1620 3.5 GHz (3.6 Turbo), v3 4-core, 10 MB cache
Memory32 GB (4 x 8 GB) DDR4-2133 MHz
GraphicsNvidia GeForce GTX 960 SuperSuperclocked (2GB DDR5)
AudioIntegrated 7.1 channel lossless - 24bit, 192 KHz bitstreaming (HDMI/DVI), 5.1 (opt. S/PDIF, audio jacks)
Storage256 GB Samsung 850 Pro SSD
Storage2 TB Western Digital Red HDD
Optical Drive12X Blu-ray disc combo (read BD, write DVD/CD, M-DISC)
Connections-Front panel (2 x USB 3.0, SDHC-Card reader, HD audio In/Out)-Rear panel (up to 10 x USB 3.0/2.0, optical S/PDIF, 8-channel audio jacks out, audio jack in, Intel Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI/DVI, Displayport)
Power SupplySeasonic 650 Watt X-Series Gold
CoolingUltra-quiet 120mm pre-sealed liquid cooling for CPU (1.5-inch single-radiator, custom fan and decouplers)

Why An HTPC?

These are high prices for an entire setup, even for those who are comfortable spending over $1,000 on a high-productivity or gaming PC, but Gossner said the price is because the HTPC isn't a complimentary device to the other media or gaming products in the living room. It's meant to be the all-in-one device to replace most of your other devices.

"…a typical living room has a lot of single devices, like a Blu-ray player, cable box, NAS, Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, and gaming console. When you sum up the cost for all of those devices, the cost of an HTPC is redeemed really quickly. Furthermore, an HTPC does not only replace those devices, but does the same functions even better. This means fewer cables, fewer remotes, and no constant switching between TV and HDMI inputs."

Even with all its features, the hefty price tag is still a big concern. That's why people still buy Blu-ray and DVD players or gaming consoles to satisfy most, if not all, of their living room needs. However, Gossner pointed out that HTPCs, unlike other living room devices, can easily be upgraded.

"All of our Living Room PCs are fully ATX compatible and upgradable with standard PC components, at any point in time. We actually assemble our system and pre-route cables in a way that our customers can easily perform upgrades," he said. "We can either guide them through the process or they can just send the system back to us and we do it free of charge."

Another issue is the emerging field of 4K displays and devices. With a higher resolution and bigger bandwidth, companies are doubling down on their products and ensuring their devices are ready for the latest wave in display technology. However, Gossner claims that Steiger's products supported 4K resolutions since 2012. Since then, updates to existing hardware, such as HDMI 2.0, have improved Steiger's products to keep them up-to-date.

Although PC gaming has been mostly based in users' bedrooms or personal offices, companies like Steiger and Origin, as well as the whole array of Steam Machines, sparked the idea of bringing PC games out of the bedroom and into the living room. Again, the biggest issue is not necessarily cost, as many gamers have a budget in mind that does the job for a little less than the cost of an HTPC. Also, console gamers pay even less than PC gamers, but unlike PCs, consoles don't have the flexibility to upgrade components.

When asked if Steiger or any other HTPC company would make a gaming build below the $500 mark to compete with consoles, Gossner said that the feat is "impossible."

"First reason, in [Steiger's] case, is mainly the unmatched quality and consequently high cost of our chassis. We could produce cheaper cases, but we strongly believe that a system for the living room must look and feel stunning," he said. "Second is the hardware; even our base systems have specs superseding those of current consoles. Third is our manufacturing and support cost; all of our systems are hand-assembled, tested, and have up to a 3 year [sic] warranty with lifetime support. This is not often valued during the purchasing decision, but most highly appreciated in case that help is needed."

The challenge now is convincing people to ditch their home theater system or PC for an HTPC. Gossner believes that there many assumptions that go along with having an HTPC, such as TV latency issues for gaming. He also mentioned that companies must look at demographics to determine the advantage of using an HTPC versus owning a home theater system or desktop PC.

However, it seems that HTPCs are slowly being adopted for a wide range of uses.

"We have a lot of customers who completely gave up their desktop and do everything on their HTPC. We even have customers who work from home and want to use our system for all their creative tasks," he said. This is one of the reason [sic] why we launched the LEET Pro at this year's CES."

So where does that put HTPCs in the long run? At the moment, it's still uncertain, but early adopters, from Gossner's perspective, are very happy with Steiger's products and wouldn't want to go back to a regular desktop PC. There's a lot of work to be done on Steiger's end to convince diehard PC fans to switch to an HTPC, but as long as people are interested, Steiger, Origin, and the multitude of companies with their Steam Machines will continue to improve on HTPCs.

UPDATE (3/11, 10:20am PT): Steiger CEO Martin Gossner reached out to us to update and clarify on a few specs of the LEET Studio and Pro. For LEET Studio's stock model, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 was replaced by the Nvidia GeForce GTX 960. Additionally, the memory was also downgraded from a DDR4-2666 MHz to 2400 MHz. This brings the total amount of the stock LEET Studio down to $3,149 from $3,399. Also included for the price is CPU overclocking and Steiger's custom power supply and SATA cables. Both options can be deselected from the build.

For the LEET Pro, its memory only allows DDR4 ECC, which Gossner said helps in keeping rendering and decoding error-free. The reason why DDR4 ECC memory is required is because the LEET Pro runs on an Intel Xeon processor.

Gossner also wanted to point out that both models can be configured to include the full range of AMD FirePro and Nvidia Quadro graphics cards, which makes them stand out from the rest of Steiger's HTPC products.

Follow Rexly Peñaflorida II @Heirdeux. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

  • bit_user
    It does look great. I love the front panel display - I've always wanted something like that, but never quite satisfied with the drive-bay units.

    But the problem is that you're paying a lot for the fancy case and noise optimization. For most people, it's just not worth it. Plus, the Dell workstations I use at my job are already really quiet (although I'd guess SD uses better components and offers more flexibility).

    They found a good niche with HTPCs, but it won't be easy to break out of that. And that market is disappearing, as TVs now have built-in streaming and people can use "stick" devices to upgrade those that don't.
  • nukemaster
    Well no shortage of power for video compression or realtime transcoding on that system.
  • turkey3_scratch
    I absolutely love the temps on the front.
  • sykozis
    The entire problem is cost. The CEO mentions cost of upgrading, but how often do you actually have to upgrade a Blu-ray player? In my experience, it only has to be "upgraded" when it fails. You can easily find a Blu-ray player for less than $100. For the cost of a "base model" LEET Studio, you can buy all the equipment to stream media across your entire house. There are even streaming media players out now that will play Blu-ray....and stream the movies. So, for $70, I can cover most of what an HTPC does. Add a PS4 or XBox One and I've covered another "feature"..... Looking at their website, they're awful confident about what they're selling. The "entry-level" ERA Pure starts at $1250 for the "standard" configuration....which is a system with a total build cost of about $400. So, they're charging an extra $850 for a "fancy" case and assembly. An Intel H81 chipset (outdated), a Pentium G3258 w/ stock cooler, a meager 120GB SSD (guess they assume you don't actually need any storage space), Integrated graphics, integrated audio, 4GB ram and meager 300watt PSU and a 4x Blu-ray combo drive.

    Basically, what I'm seeing, is that this company is out to rip people off just like every other "boutique builder" in existence....
  • bit_user
    15394210 said:
    The entire problem is cost.

    15394210 said:
    Basically, what I'm seeing, is that this company is out to rip people off just like every other "boutique builder" in existence....
    That's awfully cynical. I think they arose to fill a niche, and they're just trying to find some way to either expand or at least replace the HTPC market, the days of which are numbered (as you rightly point out).

    When you do anything custom, in relatively small volumes, it's going to be expensive. I can pretty much assure you these boutique builders are operating on rather thin margins. I know a guy who used to be in this business until about 5-6 years ago.

    I wish them luck. I like that there are high-end options out there, for those who want & can afford it. Although I enjoy building PCs, I might consider just buying machines from these boutique-types if I had a fair bit more disposable income and a little less free time. I probably waste too much time geeking around with my machines that I should be using in more productive ways.
  • epobirs
    Asking a PC maker to compete with game console pricing is absurd. The business models are completely different. The biggest factor is that the console maker gets a piece of the action on all software sold.
  • Blueberries
    So basically these appeal to people that have no experience with computer hardware and lots of money.

    Why not just buy a Mac Pro? It's the same size.
  • TeraMedia
    I bought into the HTPC movement back in 2005. I built one and put a terabyte in it, both to demonstrate to myself that it could be done ("Cool, my own personal Terabyte..."), and because I was tired of my important data being at the mercy of small, failure-prone laptop HDDs. Back then, a Terabyte required a RAID 5 array of at least 4 HDDs, so that PC required the use of some of the highest-end consumer components available in order to fit in a ATX box.

    So much has changed since then that a completely different paradigm makes better sense.

    - XBOX One is moving in the direction of integrating everything - cable STB, game console, PC, Smart TV / social browser, disk player. The next XBOX will have everything that a full-fledged HTPC has, albeit with a closed architecture and software. When that happens, there will be very little reason to get an HTPC - especially when you factor in the added headaches of system setup, configuration and maintenance.

    - Microsoft seems to be killing off the old WMC 7 interface, which became apparent when they didn't bother integrating it from the get-go into their Metro UI in Windows 8, but instead made Media Center an add-on, special, non-PC-device interface on top of their Metro add-on, special, non-PC-device interface. Yeah. Want a great way to kill a piece of software? Don't invite it to the software upgrade party. There are other HTPC UIs out there, and some of them can do some fantastic stuff, but XBOX is going to have a full team developing and enhancing its UI for the next decade - that's going to be a tough horse to out-run.

    - Video streaming is now much easier and much less expensive than movie library compilation. Never mind the questions of legality that arise in some countries, it's easier and less expensive to let someone else maintain the hardware and data management for thousands of movies than to try to manage your own library locally. No, the HD quality isn't there - but anyone who really wants that level of quality isn't going to want a single big HTPC box in the middle of the living room anyway. They're going to want a bunch of rack components in the server closet acoustically isolated from the movie room.

    - Cable co's are doing everything in their power to make the use of anything other than a rented STB a PitA. Between switched digital video, "accidental" misconfiguration of cable cards, frequent changes to channel offerings, schedules and channel assignments, and timing out of switched channels without user intervention, they've done their best - and will continue to do their best - to make using an HTPC on a cable connection a marginally-effective system architecture.

    Steiger is plainly trying to expand or migrate into a new market with these workstation products, because they (rightly) perceive that the HTPC market is dying. Unfortunately for them, there is a very limited market for single-box LR shelf components like this one. Customers either don't need / want to spend that much, or they can afford to put the PC hardware elsewhere (such as a utility closet) in which case it doesn't need to be pretty, can be built more cheaply, and is easier to maintain anyway.
  • velocityg4
    2TB of storage is way too little for a HTPC. Especially at that price $3400 and $3850. The storage should be closer to 20TB to 25TB RAID 6 at those prices. The GPU would be helpful to speed up ripping your bluray library
  • surphninja
    This guy is insane. And those specs are absurd, no matter what the pc's being used for.

    The only niche I can imagine them serving is gullible rich guys. Nobody who actually knows anything about HTPCs is going to fall for this.

    First of all, no machine needs that's much RAM. Period. Second, if an HTPC works as it's supposed to, you hardly notice it at all. Not only do you not need a fancy chassis, but after having it for more than a few hours you're going to want your HTPC case to be as plain and non-distracting as possible- even indicator lights on the case can be terribly distracting during a movie. Third, an HTPC does not need to be a full ATX. I don't even see a reason it needs to be more than mini-itx.

    I could go through why each component on the spec sheet is ridiculous, but you get the gist. Few people are gonna fall for this garbage.